Interview Buster Roberts
Father of Kenny, Grandfather of Kurtis
by dean adams (1998)

Buster Roberts is the 78 year old father of Kenny Roberts. 

Q. How did the Roberts family end up living in California?

A.I was born in Fresno, all my family is from Fresno. 

My mother and father were born in Missouri and they came to Fresno in the old covered wagon days, I'd imagine. 

Kenny is my only son. I have an adopted son and daughter. My other son is two years older than Kenny. 

When I married Kenny's mother I adopted her son just to keep it all Roberts. 

His name is Rick Roberts and he's a head security guard. I also have an adopted daughter. I have three children.

I (also) had one daughter right after the war that died, she was seven years old when she died.

Q. What were you doing for work when Kenny was born?

A. I was driving tow-truck in Modesto when Kenny was born.

Q. What was Kenny Roberts like as a child?

A. As a child Kenny was the orneriest kid you'd ever seen. He was a well-liked kid, but he had to be the star of everything he did: if he played baseball he had to be the pitcher, if he played football he had to be the quarterback. He was just that type of kid. He had to be the biggest part of it. 

Q. How did he start racing?

A. When he started racing we put him on a ... what the heck was it ...? A Tohatsu; and the thing would run fast around the house but you'd take it to a racetrack and it wouldn't run. We traded that off and got him a Hodaka and after that, he'd just go by you. He never looked back and just kept getting better and better. 

He was about 12 years old when he started to ride. Before that he was into horses. He was a small kid, real small. He weighed about eighty pounds and we had horses, so they wanted to make him a jockey. He was so light and he could ride, but then he went to motorcycles (BR pronounces it "motor-sickles")

A friend of ours took him to a local dirt-track race in Modesto, out by the old swimming pool. He watched the bikes go by and he said, 'Hell, I can beat them guys.' So I bought him that Tohatsu and it was no good so I had to get him a better bike so I got him that Hodaka. Everybody was riding Hodakas then. Then he just took off from there.

Q. How did he get hooked up with Bud Aksland (Roberts early mentor)?

A. Then Bud Aksland got a hold of him and give him a Suzuki to ride. He just kept winning and winning. He won on everything he got on, finally they got him a 250 single to ride and he started winning more.

He never had a job in his teenage years. He worked with Bud Aksland in the shop, but most of the time he just raced. 

He was 18 years old—you had to be 18 to join the AMA. He turned 18 on December the 31st and he raced the next day in South San Francisco. He raced against all the professionals and he come in second. Then the next time he raced the pros again he worked his way up to fourth. He was racing against Jim Rice and all those guys.

Q. As someone who would later go on to define precise riding, what was his riding like when he was a child? Was he fast right away?

A. When Kenny got on the motorcycle for the first time, he just took off. He was gone. 

We kind of got him a bike ... well, now that I remember, the first bike ... The oldest boy (Roberts older brother, Rick)had to go to school because he had summer school. 

Me and the old lady (the infamous Alice Roberts--author) were working and we couldn't take the boy to school. So, we bought him an old Honda 50cc Dream. 

Every time he would park the thing at home, Kenny would steal it. 

To keep peace in the family I had to buy Kenny a motorcycle too. 

He dropped it in a canal a time or two, and he wanted to start racing then so we did.

He just got better year after year after year.

Q. The story goes that he truly loved to ride as a child and rode ten hours a day, every day. Is that true?

A. The way that some people take to beer, Kenny took to motorcycles.

Well, he'd go racing and then he'd come home. He'd take the bike out of the van and then ride it up and down the street. 

It got so bad, that he was riding so much, then we'd almost have to overhaul it again because he'd worn it out. 

He'd come home from school and he'd ride it and ride it some more.

In his teenage years he was a good kid. If you knowed Kenny's sons Kurtis and Junior they're all about the same. They're all really nice kids. Senior was a real nice kid.

When I got a job with the City of Modesto water department we moved out to the country. We didn't have no land -- we had a half and acre, but Kenny would ride in the canal behind the house.

Q. Did you have any concept of what you had on your hands when you first took Kenny Roberts racing?

A. When he went racing he was ready. I don't know if I was or not. I was very involved in the early dirt track years. I tried to get him to every race I could.

My older boy did not ride. Well, he rode but he did not race. He had no interest in racing at all - he liked to ride his bike to school and that was all. He'd come home, park the bike and go in and watch television.

We had some top-notch riders in our hometown, they were tough guys to beat. Well, when he was just a kid coming up, he graduated from bike to bike to bike. When he got on that 250 Suzuki from Bud Aksland he went out there and started beating those guys.

We'd take him to different towns, over by the ocean, Half-Moon bay and then he started beating those guys over there. There were some big names, professionals, and he'd go out there whether it be a TT track or a short track, he'd still beat them.

Everybody tried to get him at one time, even early on. My old lady put up kind of a stink about that, she thought it was happening too fast.

Q. Bud Aksland is perhaps the most influential person in Kenny Roberts' career besides yourself, wouldn't you say?

A. Bud Aksland taught him a lot. Bud had a Suzuki shop in Montega. Bud taught him a lot about racing and motorcycle engines. And they're still hooked together, Bud still works for Kenny. Kenny used to work for Bud; now Bud works for Kenny. He never lost Bud; he kept Bud all through his championships and he still works for his team in Europe.

He's a pretty loyal guy, Kenny. He knows all his old friends from school. He's never forgotten the people that helped him out early. They'd come in busloads to see him race here (at Sears Point) and at Monterey, friends of his from school. He knew them all and kept in touch with all of them.

He's a natural on a motorcycle.

(Rich Oliver was sitting nearby listening as the tape recorder ran and he states to Buster Roberts:)

Oliver: He's smart too, he's got it up here (points to his head).

Roberts: Yeah.

Q. What were the early Roberts roadrace days like?

A. We had no roadrace experience when he first went roadracing. None at all. (Jim) Doyle was with him when he first started roadracing; they had a little Yamaha twin 250 and I think that lasted about a half a lap at Daytona. He got the lead, when they was practicing they'd go around the big track but when they'd race they'd cut it short. So in the race he went around the big track on the first lap. It broke down anyway.

He rode 250s and he started winning on 250s—Daytona, Ontario, and all these other racetracks. Then he switched to 750s and he stared winning again. One year I think he won every roadrace over 750cc they had in the States. He started the race here at Sears Point once in the back. He broke a chain in the test race (heat race) and had to start in the back for the main event. In five laps he had the lead. I think there were like twenty or thirty riders in that AMA national.

The kid had a brain and he knew how to use it. I didn't have that kind of a brain; I could have been a hell of a lot better for him, you know, if I did. When he was younger I could give him more money—it took all the money I had to keep him racing. It was pretty tough going; but when he stared winning everything changed around. It was not bad then.

He was just a natural and there's only very few of them ever born and he's one of them.

Before motorcycles his passion was horses. We had horses and still have horses, quarter-horses. He was never into roping, he was too small anyway. They wanted to make him a jockey. 



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